You’ve seen their shells in science textbooks, design magazines, and haggard hotel wall art, quite soon those might be the only places you’ll find one of nature’s most mathematically pleasing marvels, the nautilus. Their iconic image, made famous by their shell’s alignment with Fibonnaci’s sequence for determining the Golden Ratio, has also made them a target for humanity’s hunger for novelty. Having survived previous eras of mass extinction, it looks like in our design conscious world the nautilous might be marked for death by its perfection:
“Nautilus’s ability, using the hydraulic system at the heart of the shell, to sink down to ocean depths of several hundred feet and lay eggs there, made these sea creatures immune to all the chaos that was going on at the surface in earlier extinctions. They could slow down their metabolism and just hibernate through whatever was going on above.
But they can’t cope with the fishermen who lure them into baited nets in the waters of the Philippines, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Fiji and Samoa. So they’re now on the edge of extinction, and whereas fishermen used to be able to catch hundreds of them a day, they now catch just one or two.
Worse, rather than catching the younger ones, many of whom would not make it to adulthood anyway, the fishermen catch the larger adults, who are already survivors and have the greatest chance of being able to breed. But the market wants those big shells. And nature has not prepared the Nautilus for the market.
The final insult may be that the industry is fueling rumors that Nautilus can make fabulous pearls, and fake “Nautilus pearls” are being made from the shells to meet the new demand.
Those shells are a marvelous example of the Golden Ratio or Fibonacci sequence of numbers, where each number in the series is the sum of the two previous ones: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. There are various slightly different versions of this in nature, but the essence of the series can be seen in the shape of spiral arm galaxies, in the heart of sunflowers and the swirl of hurricanes, and in shells like the Nautilus.”